Sounds like an oxi-moron, huh? We think of construction as positive. Criticism as negative. We normally think of construction as building or putting together. But Webster’s 1828 Dictionary also includes this definition:
To interpret or understand.
And “constructive” is defined as “not directly expressed but inferred.”
OK. Still with me? Good. “Criticism” is defined as “the art of of judging with propriety of the beauties and faults of a performance” or “the act of judging on the merit of a performance.” A “critique” is the “science of criticism; standard or rules of judging of the merit of performances.” Pretty clear so far.
Putting the two together, then, we can surmise that constructive criticism is a judgment made about the merits, beauties or faults, of a performance that is expressed in such a way that the criticized can infer the conclusion. In other words, the person being critiqued will not feel personally attacked or directly assaulted when encountering a skilled critic. Rather, he or she would hear a series of feedback statements of the best things, and things for potential improvement, and be able to easily discern the best way to continue pursuing excellence in the craft.
But get real. Is this even possible? Is it possible in the Church?
Well, I need to be the first to confess my sinful blunders when it comes to offering genuine constructive criticism. I have made people feel beat down and discouraged when I know in my heart I actually meant to do just the opposite! And a few times, I have even sat around and just flat out belly-ached and threw little fits about something in the Church I didn’t like, didn’t prefer, didn’t want, or wanted to see changed. Sadly, I have even done this in the presence of other church members. I’m a horrible sinner in this area, but God is showing Himself to be a perfectly patient Redeemer and Teacher. I speak on this not from a position of “arrived” but rather “just pulling out of the station.” All aboard!
Do all things without grumbling or disputing (Phil 2:14).
Well, given that Christians are told to admonish and rebuke and encourage one another (Rom 15:14; 1 Thess 5:14; 2 Tim 4:2), and also commanded to “do all things without grumbling or disputing,” we must conclude that constructive criticism is indeed possible. Like everything in the Christian life, it’s possible only by the power, presence and grace of the Spirit of the Living Christ in us. But, nevertheless, possible.
It’s very significant that the verse above in Philippians 2 flows directly out of one of the most beloved passages on the condescension of Jesus who laid aside His Divine prerogatives to become an obedient man, even to the point of death on the cross. It is because of our Great Savior’s atoning sacrifice for our sins that we are then told to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you to work for His good pleasure.” There’s both the motive (His loving humiliation and sacrifice) and the engine (God at work in us making us like Christ) of the command: “Do all things without grumbling.”
I find it compelling and convicting that the very first way the Holy Spirit through Paul fleshes out what it means to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” is to exhort us never to grumble. Never.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing.
All things? Yes. All. Without grumbling? Murmuring? Complaining? Arguing? Disputing? Belly-aching? Yes. Without all these attitudes and behaviors.
Theologically and/or doctrinally, I get how constructive criticism is possible. Why then have I managed to do so poorly at it? Surely I’m not the only one still wondering how this all works out in practice?! If we are trying to judge how certain ministries in the Church might be improved, how can we possibly express it without falling into the trap of grumbling? How do we practically avoid this sin against God?
The next blog post will seek to answer that very critical question.